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Student Spotlight: Meet Aidan Swayne

November 6, 2023

We recently connected with Aidan Swayne, a second-year student in our M.A. in International Studies program and alumnus of our bachelor’s degree in international studies. Aidan was selected for an eight-month internship, which began in September, in the Virtual Student Federal Service working with the U.S. Consulate General in Vancouver, Canada. The Canadian Studies Center at the Jackson School developed the unique internship program last year in an effort to connect student areas of interest with Consular needs. In the Q&A below, we ask Aidan, whose hometown is Taos, New Mexico, about the internship, his research and journey while at the UW.

Aidan Swayne

Aidan Swayne

Jackson School: How did you decide to pursue a master’s degree at the Jackson School?
Aidan Swayne:
While I had a desire to pursue a graduate degree in international studies, largely based on a desire to learn and grow as a scholar, it was initially a hard decision to make as returning to school felt like (at the time) a daunting task. In finalizing my decision, however, I drew a lot of inspiration and motivation from my bachelor’s in international studies experience at the Jackson School. The excellent faculty, the wide variety of focus areas, the classes available, and a very memorable Task Force with Professor Kathie Friedman, made the Jackson School an amazing place to complete my undergraduate degree. It also made it an obvious choice when I began applying for graduate programs. Having knowledge of faculty research, avenues to expand my own interests in, and channels of communication with advisers, made it much easier to approach making the decision. In addition, the structure of the program with its heavy emphasis on guided research and advanced classroom work solidified it as an appealing opportunity I couldn’t turn down. 

Jackson School: Tell us about your current research.
I am trying to explore the history of U.S. based energy regimes in the Arabian Gulf and their lasting impact on geopolitics, political discourse, and the creation of corporate-commissioned histories. In doing so, I hope to make some attempt at joining a growing and impressive body of scholarship on the spatial dimensions of oil and its continual enterprises who have transformed ecology and modalities of life through imperial campaigns of sabotage and settlement. One of the major focal points of my research is the Aramco operation in Saudi Arabia during the first half of the 20th century and conducting an analysis of its corporate rhetoric and publications, both of which call for interesting – although niche – primary research. 

Jackson School: Tell us more about the Canadian Consulate-Vancouver internship.
A.S.: While many of the assets you possess as a student are applicable to professional work, sometimes in ways you overlook (remember that!), internships such as this can provide you with another set of skills which contribute to how you approach your professional and academic endeavors. This includes giving you more exposure to building new connections and being able to more proactively adapt to work which is unfamiliar. Specifically, this internship, which focuses on “Pacific Northwest Cross-Border Economic, Energy, Infrastructure and Trade Developments,” allows me to do work which takes on bi-lateral challenges across a diverse number of sectors from security and energy to climate change and tourism. It is a way to take the interdisciplinary background I have in international affairs and apply those skills directly to becoming an asset to U.S. State Department officials. Working with the Consulate General Vancouver is bringing my skills into a local arena and helping me to make an impact on a region I have grown to love-rain and all.

Jackson School: What are your post-graduation plans?
A.S.: In the short term I am hoping to join programs such as think-tanks which can push me to continue learning and producing strong work on a variety of topics. Through my internship this year, I have also been able to see into the world of the State Department and the Foreign Service. This has given me the opportunity to see firsthand how these sectors operate and what a career in government might be like. I could see this as a variable and exciting long-term option for me going forward and am grateful for the chance to get an early taste of it all. Returning to school is always at the back of my mind, but I think it might be time to step away for a minute and experience new opportunities in places (hopefully) across the globe.

Jackson School: Most memorable moment as a Jackson School grad student so far?
A.S.: Memorable moments here at the Jackson School are wide and varied, and I have been lucky enough to have had many! For example, chances to take classes with my cohort members are always memorable as they are meaningful opportunities for us to learn together, get to know each other, and exchange perspectives on our futures, research interests, etc. I have also loved the opportunity to take interests that I have developed in courses and pursue them more wholly for my dissertation project and personal development. I think one of the great things about being a graduate student is the ability to feel more connected with, and dive deeper into, the themes you are passionate about researching. This has often manifested in memorable exchanges with professors who have pointed me in new creative directions.

Jackson School: Advice to prospective Jackson School graduate students?
Do things early! I think this cannot be stressed enough for prospective students. The two-year standard completion time goes faster than you can imagine. Begin researching faculty members, their research, classes they teach, and locate those that really speak to you before you start your first quarter. This way, you can start building those relationships early and maybe even have those professors as part of your dissertation committee. In the same vein, I think thoughtful planning regarding courses you want to take is always good advice. Some courses are more popular than others and fill fast, others are less but have smaller capacities, so stay on top of registration deadlines! Luckily, however, the Jackson School program makes a truly interdisciplinary approach accessible, so I would also suggest taking something that catches your eye – you’d be surprised where new academic and personal inspiration can come from. I would also suggest reaching out to our advising staff who always seem to be willing and able to guide our own complex schedules and interests in the right direction.